24 Apr 2017

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Morocco, part IV: a multimedia adventure

The final post on my recent trip! I’d like to share some half-finished thoughts and some sketchy experimental bits and pieces.

As I’ve previously mentioned, Morocco blew my mind in the best way. This wonderful stimulation only added to the generally fresh and new creative vibes I’ve been feeling lately; exploring painting, drawing, writing, sketching ideas for multimedia pieces, film and performance art. 

Another piece of a jigsaw fell into place when I watched Randall Wright’s documentary about David Hockney shortly before leaving. Having visited Tate’s retrospective in February I was surprised how little I knew of Hockney’s output and how much I loved the work. (Run to see the exhibition, which closes soon!) and I was inspired to find out more. 

I watched the film on BBC iPlayer, where it’s no longer available, but you can watch the trailer online or buy the DVD and I strongly recommend that you do! One of the most interesting parts was where the artist was talking about making panoramas on his iPhone - how he thinks of them, like his multi-canvas landscapes or his collaged photographs as a way of exploring space differently and more expansively. 

Sometimes when I travel alone I take pictures of my own feet in the places I walk. (Also used this tired old trope as documentary while I’m training for a marathon hike to raise money for breast cancer research). Partly this stems from an impulse to prove I was there; partly I am embarrassed about asking strangers to take photos of me and am certainly not that interested in snapping selfies - mostly because I don’t look good, not because I hate selfies. This time just those photos didn’t seem to take in enough of the scene so I began to make vertical panoramas - I’m sure partly influenced by Hockney’s stamp of approval for this accessible form of photography. 


These turned into a way of documenting literal and emotional waystations. They also functioned to capture something of the landscape and required me to move within space to fill in the edges, to crane into a backbend to capture the blue sky and hot sun that was an intrinsic part of the experience for me. I’ve collected them below; they are kind of fun, and kind of silly, and kind of nothingy; but I also think they are interesting and in future travels I want to make more. 
Here are another couple made more 'traditionally' by rotating horizontally on the spot (one is shot by a fellow surfer and I think it’s kind of fascinating how a tiny, handheld object with almost zero photographic manipulability can create an image with such a sense of drama and scale. 

A final pano shows some glitched portions that I made by forcing the ‘stitching’ mechanism, moving the phone side to side more extremely than the instructions given by my phone were telling me to.
All of these were originally cropped and edited using phone and web apps (mostly Pixlr and the in-phone options) and this also provokes me into questioning the role of automation and control in my image-making. This is something I’ve been interested in for a while now and continue to experiment with. 

Before I even left I knew I wanted to try and recreate some of Hockney’s collaged photo-print works as these are some of my favourites of his; at the exhibition I particularly noted the piece Walking in the Zen Garden at the Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto for its inclusion of his feet pacing along the bottom edge. Thinking more carefully about digital creation, control and release of control, I ran the selection of images I shot at Le Jardin Majorelle through all of Photoshop’s ‘photo merge’ command; five are stitched together below. I want to consider the algorithms involved here; what is ‘looking’ at these images and what is being ‘decided’? Of course the automation isn’t ‘pure’; I edited the initial JPEGs; I chose the five to feature here, I was asked to select various options; I cropped them into squares and erased one errant image that almost none of the commands could incorporate (hence the gappy portion top left). I enjoy their slight - or not so slight - variations.

Also while at the Jardin Majorelle and pondering these things as I and all the other tourists wandered around documenting ourselves in this moment, I recalled that my camera has a built in double exposure mode and had a little play with that. Again, the camera decides various things then I - and Adobe’s little spiders - decide some more - but time folds briefly in on itself here, like the snap shut of the aperture itself. 
Here’s an accidental creation that happened while I was editing all my more traditional images of the Jardin - zooming as close as possible to check the crop on one picture, I realised I’d filled my screen with the International Klein Blue the house is famous for and in doing so created a Moroccan tile pattern of sorts. This has another layer too, seeing as (according to William Gibson, via Wikipedia), it is extremely difficult to reproduce accurately on computer screens…
AND FINALLY…another habit of mine when travelling or moving through my home city is to record sound clips of especially evocative moments. Among other things, I’ve recorded babbling rivers in Wales, vibrating hive sculptures in Kew Gardens, and a busking cellist under the U-Bahn in Berlin. All of these have an ability to transport me to a particular point and place in the way that scent does and that photographs rarely do. In Morocco, the calls to prayer that punctuate the day are one of those soundscapes, as are the sheer levels of birdsound (songs, twitterings, squawks). Click on the image below, which I shot before I recorded this clip, or here to visit the rooftop of my Marrakech riad as the sun sets.

With all of these noodlings, what I’m trying to do is stretch my practice a bit, to challenge my assumptions and habits and to begin finding a more expansive way of photographing.

21 Apr 2017

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Morocco, part III: Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside…

What was your seaside growing up? Mine was the quintessential South Coast English sort: gentle dunes, salty water, goose pimples (often), picnics behind stripey plastic windbreaks (always), games of cricket with my cousins, sandcastles, 99 flakes, seagulls, chips (lots of vinegar please) on the way home, and falling asleep gritty with sand and covered in freckles in the back of my mum’s Ford Escort to the tune of Paul Simon’s Graceland on repeat. Imagine the Famous Five filtered through Martin Parr and you’re about there.

Since then I’ve explored the top layers of the Great Barrier Reef, all be-rainbowed with tropical fish, and dipped from snowy river meltwaters into bath-hot sea on two sides of a Turkish peninsula. (Less romantically I’ve also forded hip high mud flats to freeze my lungs stiff on the Norfolk coast). I love swimming in fresh water and dip my toes into the paradise that is the Hampstead Heath Ladies’ Pond on a summer’s day with glee; but saltwater will always be my first love. It buoys you up, it heals your skin, it makes your hair mermaid-wavy with no effort, and gives you the ravening appetite of a hungry wolf. 

In the case of the Moroccan Atlantic coast, the waves will also tumble you upside down like a gemstone in a barrel, leaving you gasping and giggling till the water runs back out of your nose. It will get inside your wetsuit so that after half an hour you have to run back up the beach to wave at Faizel the drinks man to warm your insides with some hot sweet mint tea (“Seulement un peu!” you must say as he waves both honey bottle and sugar jar at you). Luckily you’ll be attached to a surf board and practicing popping up in very baby waves, so at all times you’ll feel only enjoyably free and abandoned. The sun will be shining fiercely, filling you with vitamin D, but you’ll have your parasol ready stationed in the sand when it’s time for a nap, sketching, reading, or a snooze.

After my time in Marrakech I hopped on a bus and was driven through a whole lot of flat, semi-desert. In the distance, mountains loomed like cut-outs waiting to be flown onto a toy stage, resolving as we drew closer into voluptuous folds in shades of dust, newsprint, and sepia. From Agadir I was transported by taxi through a warm night that smelled faintly and pleasantly like fish, Jess Glynne and Clean Bandit on the car radio (“plus fort” I yelled and he turned it right up), to arrive at Marocsurfcamp in Tamraght.



I’d signed up to their six-day surfing and yoga retreat and it was bloody brilliant. Tamraght is just a little further away from the main centre of surfing in the area, Taghazout, and as such has more of a village-y feel. Evening walks would cross paths with kids leaving school, women popping to the corner shop for a tin of cat food, families playing together or teenagers snatching a quiet moment to canoodle as the sun set. 

Everything is a little ramshackle; lots of building and landscaping is happening all along the coast and I bet if I went back in a year or two everything would be shinier. Luckily for me, I caught it at the perfect level. There are enough surf lodges that you don’t stand out, but locals aren’t sick of tourists yet and so you can exchange a nod and "salaam" with the older men, wave cheerily at the women prepping dinner, and make google eyes at the babies to your heart’s content. 

The camp itself is lovely; a rooftop yoga studio allowed me to stretch out every morning as the sun rose around me; Khadijah (pictured below admiring the view of the sunset from our terrace) and Fatema in the kitchen spoiled us all rotten with three delicious meals a day (and unending supplies of tea and cheer); the instructors (the two Mehdis, one below assessing conditions!, and Said) were patient, good-humoured, and lots of fun to be around.


After only 24 hours with the other guests I knew I’d made some true friends. (Jesse, Asa, Alex and Marine, below, to name just four).




We travelled to different beaches each day depending on our mood and that of the wave gods, picnic lunch packed, stopping off to buy massive bunches of very tiny bananas to keep us well-fuelled. 
In the evening I walked a few minutes down the road to Villa Solaria where Lena (below) led another yoga class on a terrace overlooking the sea itself.

After a much-needed series of flow sequences, hip and shoulder openers and that all-important time in shavasana I would potter back to tagine, kefte, baked fish, or whatever delight had been prepared that night. Exhausted by our efforts we lazed around post dinner chatting, reading, writing journals, before retiring to do it all again the next day. Little excursions to the souk in Agadir and for a second lunch of fried fish and coffee in the ‘bustling metropolis’ (ha!) of Taghazout kept everything varied and despite not sleeping all that well I’ve never felt more relaxed. Some views of Taghazout below...central London at rush hour it ain't.


This is Momo, who works at La Terrasse d'Argana in Taghazout. I admired his lightbulb plant holders (below) and when he brought our coffee over he also made me a gift of one! In return I made his portrait. Do visit the cafe, which has fantastic views (above). 

As someone who isn’t naturally very sporty or well-balanced I enjoyed the surfing itself way more than I was expecting - and yes, I managed to stand up a few times! 

The sole cloudy morning meant Jesse and I could take a little stroll up Devil's Rock and make a canine pal. Don't worry, the sun came out about ten minutes later...



I didn’t take as many photos during my time at the coast because I was feeling too damn lazy to pick up my camera. This is in fact an ideal state of affairs for one’s holidays (but perhaps not for one’s blog posts!). For phone snaps and Johnny-on-the-spot reports, scroll back through my Instagram feed.




Can you see why I didn’t want to come home? 



Check out the other packages the camp offers here, and do contact owner Maria with any questions. She was extremely helpful beforehand (it was especially brilliant to know I would be picked up from the bus station and dropped off at the airport).


If Morocco isn’t your bag, see where else your yoga could take you…I booked initially through BookRetreats and they also come highly recommended with a prompt and personal query service and easy search tools.

Keep up to date with Lena’s yoga practice here and her photo travels here.

And then all that’s left is for you to book your flights!





20 Apr 2017

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Morocco, part II: Marrakech's Souk de teinturiers

The souk de teinturiers or dyers' market is hard to find. I mean, that could be said for much of Marrakech (as someone who muddles up left and right even at home I found myself thanking the Google gods that I could occasionally access a map). Persevere in seeking it out and you'll be rewarded with two or three little streets where a very old craft still thrives among the stalls of neon pompom-ed straw bags and shoes that could have been made in China. 
The dyers used to occupy much more space here in the medina but as demand for handmade goods has dwindled, so have their numbers. Hidden down an alleyway, you'll find walls painted with handprints and running with water from dripping skeins of wool hanging overhead. 


You'll get a harder sell here than elsewhere in the market and the workers hauling steaming hanks of material in and out of dye pits will actively dissuade you from taking photos - which is, of course, fair enough! Wander about and breathe deep and you'll get a noseful of wet sheep that'll take you back to autumn days in your school blazer. Fill your eyes with the vivid sight of bowls of pigment powder all made from natural materials - poppy seed, something that looks like lapis, ochre. 



In my case, you'll also get chatting with one dyer who invites you in for a closer look at the process and thinks you very funny as you bend to snap a picture of his battered gold teapot and fuzzy tv screen filled with aerial snow. 


Suddenly you'll have made a human connection and he'll be more than happy for you to capture his portrait. 

He will wave you on your way after showing you the deep egg-yolk yellow cotton he's dip-dying today and you'll leave with a greater appreciation of the web of artisans that used to run this trade - from the farmers raising and shearing the sheep, to the spinners and dyers processing the wool, to the weavers and tailors and rug makers that made the beautiful shawls and rugs you can still find elsewhere in the souk. 

18 Apr 2017

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Morocco, part I: Marrakech


In Morocco, I had trouble sleeping. Not because I wasn't tired; walking around for two full days in the delicious warmth of Marrakech followed by six of surfing and yoga at the coast exhausted me in the most relaxed way possible. No, I couldn't sleep because my brain apparently wanted to luxuriate in the memory of every moment that I spent in the country.

Like a spool of film unrolling across my inner eyelids, I showed myself all over again what I had seen each day. City and village alike displayed a Seventies technicolour glory of buildings in faded pinks, oranges, and mint green, punctuated vibrantly with bursts of bougainvillea purple and International Klein blue; flowers blooming earlier than at home; a crescent moon rising over the curling surf; every street tiled, iron-worked, hand-painted with signage for rabbits, plumbing services, hairdressers; shafts of sunlight falling into courtyards that don't seem to fit together with their neighbours. 

My nose once again inhaled scents of rose oil and roasting peanuts; my tongue re-ran itself over the flavours of spiced coffee, harissa and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. I rehashed conversations I'd had with painters, surfers, Senegalese cafe owners, butchers, men selling cows' foot stew, grandmothers, wondering how I could have explained myself better in my terrible French. Once or twice I am sure I woke up in the dead of night trying to wrestle my mouth around the unfamiliar syllables of Arabic so that I could at least mutter 'shukraan' ('thank you') for the many small and large kindnesses I was shown. Shoulder and thigh muscles that have never been used relived the exhilarating rush and chilly tumble of the Atlantic waves.

If it sounds like a brilliant and overwhelming flood, then I've accurately described a small slice of my trip. It was too much and I couldn't get enough of it. I couldn't possibly try and explain the sensory overload that I encountered there in more words, so maybe we should let some photos be our guide into Marrakech? We'll ease ourselves in gently with some dusty tones before the Jardin Majorelle really punches our lights out with its citrussy vibes...I'll link to everything at the end of the post.

I stayed at Riad Nuba, about ten minutes walk north of the craziness of Place Jemaa el-Fnaa. It's part of a group of riads owned by RocKech - I also spent time at Riad Bamileke even nearer the centre of town. Both guesthouses were beautifully decorated in different ways, and Alberto, Reb, Matteo and Simone (the Italian fellas who own the houses) along with colleague Ahmed, couldn't have been more friendly, welcoming or helpful. Highly recommended if you're visiting Marrakech! Pictured above is lovely Latifah who made our tasty breakfasts of fresh squeezed orange juice, Moroccan pancakes, pastries and French bread with jams and butter, hard boiled eggs and hot strong coffee. 


After lazing around and fuelling myself with coffee on the rooftop, I slowly wound my way towards La Maison de la Photographie. Although I have visited Marrakech before, this small museum of vintage photographs has only opened in the last few years so I was pleased to have a chance to visit. Ironically I hardly took any photos there (a few phone snaps to come!) but happily whiled a couple of hours away checking out the salt prints, early colour images, documentary films, and stereoscopes. I also admired the view from their shady rooftop restaurant, listening to birds and mopeds and muezzins, drawing the view of the stunning mountains that soar over the city. The gallery rooms are cool, with linen curtains and vines over the windows providing some welcome shade (below).



The neighbourhood around the Medina (where I spent a lot of my time) is not quite as touristy as the very centre of town, and I met lots of interesting tradespeople and locals to natter with, including a bookbinder, who taught me that the word in French is 'relileur' and with whom I had a nice chat about gold leaf and embossing tools (I think! Did I mention my French is not that good?) Above, a postbox whose yellow sings out against the terracotta walls, and below, some little love details I saw around the place. The chalk drawing reminds me of the street photos of Helen Levitt...






I totally lost track of time during the day, winding back to the centre of town eventually to find a flower and plant market established in Place Jemaa el-Fnaa. A man was sprinkling water over these pots of roses, all retro-chic in their reused olive and tomato cans, and it looked so flipping refreshing.
In my rambly intro I mentioned all the hand-painted signage in Marrakech; this is just one example for a butcher's stall in the souk selling chickens and rabbits.
And here are the young sellers of said birds! 
A word on street photography in Morocco. Many people have signs saying 'no photos' in shops and stalls or will otherwise make it obvious that they don't want to be papped as they go about their daily business. Personally I've always felt pretty uncomfortable just shoving a camera at someone with whom I haven't even exchanged a word and tend to avoid doing so anyway. On this trip, feeling creatively emboldened, I would ask permission only of those people I'd already had a bit of a chat or exchanged a greeting. In the case of these lads, I'd stopped to exclaim over the prettiness of their sign and then they in fact asked me if I was a journalist and would I take their picture! It should be obvious that you respect people's wishes about getting photographed even in tourist hot spots like Marrakech but I actually witnessed one man shooting a phone pic of a HUGE 'no photography' sign sooo...guess not.
So much love for the palm trees that are everywhere here. I adore the way they look so sharp and sculptural against the hot sky and at the same time so lush and green in this dry land. Pictured below left is the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque. As a non-Muslim I couldn't go in but it has some nice green space around it if you fancy a quick rest.
Meeting painter Mobtaji (above) was one of the most rewarding experiences of my trip, and one of the most linguistically challenging. I passed his tiny studio-shop on my second day having admired him busy at work there previously. Popping in to check out his art we fell into conversation about all sorts - the luxury of thinking slowly, the value placed on art in Europe versus Africa, his favourite city in his homeland (he likes the Moroccan countryside the best), and how true art will rise to the top over time like cream in milk. I think I already mentioned that my French is not great (ha ha, just once or twice) but I was really proud of just chucking myself at it and trying my hardest. It only goes to show that communication is so much more than words and that you can get a deep connection to a place and a person with a little willpower and a lot of 'baaaaaahhhh' pauses to buy yourself time to dredge the vocabulary out of the recesses of your mind. Mobtaji doesn't have a website but I'll put directions below as best I can.
Regretting heartily only having hand luggage, I purchased one of the small paintings you see in the window, a composition that conjured the light, shade, and rosy tones of the souk alleyways. I'll definitely be back to buy one of his delightful larger paintings (far left: Charlie Chaplin, Van Gogh (also second left), Gandhi, and the King of Morocco) on my next visit.

And so on to my final stop in Marrakech, designer Yves St Laurent's Jardin Majorelle, a tonic for the senses in every respect. The home he left to the city is painted in an almost painfully bright shade of ultramarine pioneered and patented by another Yves, Klein by name. The garden is a tranquil haven of bamboo, palms, succulents and cacti growing to enormous heights in calming grey gravel, koi carp blipping peacefully in ponds, and pot plants housed in vessels in an acidic gold and juicy tangerine; all misted by cool sprinklers. 
It's a little bit of a walk outside the city walls in the more modern Gueliz neighbourhood so feels even more of a relief after the blare and heat of walking along a busy main road. While it's thronged with fellow tourists, I still felt incredibly calm after spending a couple of hours there doing some quiet coloured drawings and taking a million photos. There's a nice little gallery of St Laurent's collaged LOVE greetings cards he sent friends and family every New Year, a museum of Berber costume and history (which I didn't visit), and an extremely fancy boutique and cafe (which I couldn't afford!).
And after all that colour and calm, I hopped back to Riad Bamileke where I'd left my bag. On the way I stopped off at a quiet Berber cafe for a too-quick tagine and then unloaded my impressions into my travel journal on the roof with a cold drink before walking to catch a bus to Agadir on the coast for the next stage of my journey.

My Guide to Marrakech

STAY 

With the guys at RocKech: www.rockech.com, various locations.

VISIT

La Maison de la Photographie, 46, Rue Souk Ahal Fassi, kaat Ben Nahid, open 9.30am-7pm. Entrance is 40dh (about £3.75) and free for under 12s, rooftop restaurant has a lovely set menu for 100dh (try the mint lemonade!)

Le Jardin Majorelle, Rue Yves Saint Laurent. Open every day throughout the year but times change seasonally and for Ramadan (check website). Entrance is 70dh for foreigners, residents and Moroccans living abroad get a reduced rate as do children. The garden is wheelchair accessible.

EAT

Interestingly, Marrakech seems to have embraced a certain hipster element since my last visit. Around the Place des ├ępices you'll find Cafe des Epices and Nomad, both highly recommended by bloggers and Instagrammers I follow, and I passed Nomad's sister restaurant Le Jardin on my wanderings. I called in to check the cafes round the spice square out but to be quite honest I live in East London and don't want to eat in places that look just like the ones in Shoreditch when I am abroad! 

On my first evening I ravenously devoured chicken, liver brochettes, ful (stewed white beans) and tea at a teeny neighbourhood place where some teenage boys helped me order because none of the staff spoke French or English and the whole giant feast cost me about £1. 
I enjoyed my aubergine salad and mint lemonade at La Maison de la Photographie very much (see above for details). 

On my second evening I took myself a food tour of Place Jemaa el-Fnaa, where stalls set up shop every night and each one grills, stews and fries for locals and tourists alike. On offer are tagines, barbecued skewers, stewed lambs head, snails, grilled brains, cows' feet and more. I hopped from stall to stall eating harira at one (the ubiquitous lentil soup that starts most suppers) for 3dh a bowl (about 30p); a delicious sandwich of Moroccan bread (a bit like a spongy, crusty bap), mashed potato, hard boiled egg, Laughing Cow cheese, harissa (chili sauce), with more tea at a second for about 60dh - salty, carby, greasy, spicy and amazing. 

A note on this one; it was, I realised too late, really a stall for locals and only for men at that. I felt a little uncomfortable having plunked myself down among them - the stall-owner wasn't super friendly and I got a few stares - but what the heck, let's smash the patriarchy two carbs at a time, hey? A final course of little merguez sausages set me back 40dh meaning my whole dinner cost me less than £6. I chose stalls where lots of locals were eating, and everyone squishes up to make space for each other. It's fast, furious, and no frills. 

I wanted to visit the Amal Women's Center, a training and development organisation that has fantastic reviews for their food. They upskill women at risk by training them to cook at a restaurant level, and there is an emphasis on sustainability which I really admire. Unfortunately I ran out of time! It's not far from the Jardin Majorelle so maybe could be combined. You can also take cooking classes with them which I think would be really fun.

My other meal in Marrakech was at Terrasse Chez Mariama Berbere, just a wee restaurant I passed in the market and liked the look of. It was very quiet when I was there (mid-afternoon) and the Senegalese owner came to have a chat after I was welcomed heartily by the Moroccan woman running the kitchen. I had a Berber tagine (which comes with dried figs and apricots, lamb kotfe, couscous and vegetables); and they also brought me some little dishes of lentils, ful, and olives to start with. The decor was lovely, and the terrace was very peaceful. The bill, again, was about 60dh (less than £6). Visit them at Abd El aziz, Route Sidi Abdelaziz.

BUY

I wasn't really interested in doing a lot of shopping, especially as I only had hand luggage. However, if I was going back I'd love to visit the following, several of which are on the same street:

Gallerie Motabji, near Riad la Ruche - for paintings and great art chat!

Bloom Boutique, on Place des epices - part of the hipster revolution, the goods are all Moroccan made and undeniably gorgeous. Handbags, jewellery, clothing, accessories, and stationery.

Hanout Boutique, 194 rue Mouassaine - beautiful and high end clothing, lovely owner!

Maison des femmes artisanes, 196 rue Mouassine - shop supporting a women's co-op! Sells argan oil toiletries and accessories mostly.

Tamgroute Poterie by Mourad, 28 rue Mouaisse - in a city groaning with ceramics these stood out for their quite unique lack of pattern deep green glazes. The owner makes the glazes himself and ships everywhere for quite reasonable prices.

Star Poterie, 47 bus, Souikat Bensalah - this was in 'my' neighbourhood and boasted shelf on shelf of crockery of all shapes, sizes and designs, many of which I'd seen in restaurants and other shops throughout the city. I am guessing that if you wanted a full dinner set they'd cut you a pretty good deal.

HEALTH

I didn't take any special precautions, health wise, and didn't get ill the entire trip. I did only drink bottled water but brushed my teeth with the stuff from the tap after the first day or two. I rinsed fruit I bought in the street or on the beach but didn't worry too much about salads etc in cafes. I will say REMEMBER YOUR SUNSCREEN! It is expensive and not very easy to find there and that sun is strong. Drink lots of water and tea to stay refreshed!

And so, on to the sea...but not before a special stop in the Souk de teinturiers (dyers' market). Until next time, fellow travellers...